Updated: Feb 7, 2019
DISCLAIMER: I am not claiming any kind of fresh revelation. This is foundational Christianity. It is not a new thought, and I am sure many believers have grasped it already. My bold title is referencing the whole of Western Christianity, not your individual assembly. So read it with an understanding that I am calling the entire body of Jesus into something, not your home Church. However, if it applies to your Church, please pay attention.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness... - Genesis 1:26a
Before God had ever spoken to mankind, or set boundaries for our worship, He revealed Himself to be a being centered around intimacy. Really think about it. Father, Son and Holy Ghost. You know of their existence, and you know that they are distinct people, and yet they are one person. What?! Have you ever stopped to really think about that? Three persons and yet one person? It is a mystery that has been flabbergasting the great mind of the faith for centuries, and yet we know it to be truth.
God is so deeply rooted in community that we cannot even figure out how to wrap our minds around it, let alone articulate it. And we were made In. His. Image.
Think about that.
God created us in His image, and then commissioned us - us being the operative word - to rule creation together. Going even further, He created us different and gave us different roles within the body of humanity, forcing us to rely on one another in order to actually achieve anything,
Don't get me wrong. Every church believes in community. And every church understands the need for the different gifts within the body. We all have our small groups, where we challenge anyone who wants to go deeper. But how many of us have experienced a body that genuinely considers every single part indispensable?
Consider the model of the family. When I first met my wife, I didn't need her for my satisfaction in life. I was perfectly happy without her. But once I had made her my wife, I could no longer imagine my life without her. After only five years, I would be completely broken if I lost her. Because community... intimacy has strengthened us so deeply that the thought of abandoning it is unthinkable. And it doesn't stop there! Although the community of husband and wife is strong, there are little loves as deep as the love between a Father and his Daughters. I've known my two Princesses an even shorter amount of time than I have my wife, but I cannot even begin to tell you what I would do to protect them. Because once again, community has strengthened us.
Although I and my wife and my daughters are all individual people, we exist as a single unit. And even more importantly, the identity of that unit could never be the same if any part of it was lost. In twenty years, when I walk my oldest daughter down the isle (that's right boys, don't test me before then), she will experience community on an entirely new level, but my home will never be the same. Not necessarily a bad thing, but there's no denying that it will change everything. Because the identity of my family is intimately dependent on each and every part of it. And in sixty years when I meet Jesus, everything will change for my wife, and my daughters, and all of the grandchildren they will have brought into my life by then.
I am not suggesting that change is evil. Only that every part of a family is necessary, and that the loss of any of them changes everything. And that is exactly how it should be in the body of Jesus.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
1 Corinthians 12:14-20
I like to say that in one blink, everything we know will die away. This life feels so long, but in light of eternity its just a single moment of our existence. And when that moment ends, the majority of "ministry" will never be necessary again. We will never need to evangelize again, or heal the sick again, or cast out a demon, or disciple a new believer, or convince our youth to live righteously. Ministry as we know it will die away. And do you know what will remain?
My relationship with God and my relationship with you. That is all that will still exist. Worship, prayer, fellowship.. all components of this one reality. Community. So why is it that for the majority of our Churches, the focus of our activity is only personal growth?
Yes, learning is important. Serving is important. Reaching the lost is important. Teaching the immature is important. Caring for the young is important. Learning to be a good husband and a good steward is important.
But community - community is eternal.
Going back to the above text, Paul paints a picture of a body of people who are so intimately dependent upon one another that they are actually individual members of a single body. His thought is that the differences that make us individuals do not divide us, but rather, they actually contribute to the overall nature of the body. So even if I am a foot and you are a liver, we are united by our shared purpose of satisfying the design of the body, even if how we contribute to that purpose is completely different. In this way, our differences glue us together, rather than tear us apart.
Ok, ok, enough of the fluff. Let's get to the point. There are three things I want to leave you with.
1. You were made for community
This is who you are. It is not just something that is available for you if you would like to go a little deeper or if you need a weekly break from the kids. The early Church was so intimate that Acts 3 says there was not a needy person among them. They stuck together. They took care of each other. They met each others needs and loved one another genuinely. Acts also says that they broke bread together daily. The early Church - the Church that Jesus built - was more than just a group of people who believed in the same God. Community was who they were. They couldn't imagine life without one another. If one of them had a need, the others gave of what they had to meet it. It wasn't odd for believers to sell their very homes in order to care for those who had need. That was their reality, and if we want to satisfy the design of Jesus, it has to be ours as well. An intimacy that goes beyond weekly bible study. A love that transcends niceties and the occasional agreement to babysit. We have to abandon our "right" to privacy and individual boundaries and we have to embrace a reality that says, "What's mine is yours. I will give because you have need, whether I have extra or not."
2. Every part of the body contributes to the identity of the body
I have been a part of some truly beautiful churches. Churches that desperately loved the lost and served their community. I have sat under incredible teachers and I've served among amazing worship teams and youth groups. I am not criticizing the Church, But i am calling the church into something deeper. It breaks my heart every time I hear of someone leaving the Church because they felt invisible or unwanted or unloved. The thought that men and women can go to a church for years and never affect anything. Or that those same men and women can be completely unrecognized after years of walking through the same doors and shaking hands with the same greeters week after week. The thought that noone notices when people stop attending, or when others start. That things can operate without any interruption when entire families are uprooted. The Church of Jesus is meant to be a body. Every single person should be an intimate part. When they start attending, it should affect everyone. And when they leave, it should leave the Church wondering what to do without them. Its time for the Church to remember that people matter. Regardless of how large your church may be, every single member should be contributing to its life in such a way that without them, something is lost. That is what community looks like.
3. Our differences should unite us, not divide us
Unfortunately, the western church has gotten into a bad habit of confusing a Church's identity with its pastor's. We consider who our pastor is to be synonymous with who we, as a body, are. That's just not true. The body is made up of many parts. Feet and hands and legs and livers and hearts and gallbladders. Every single piece contributes to the identity of the whole. Our Churches are shaped by our community, not by our leaders. Pastors exist to keep the body moving, not necessarily to decide where it goes. (A blog for another day). Which means that what makes you different from me shouldn't be a factor in how i see you, but rather it should relieve me, because a piece of the body's nature that I cant satisfy is still being satisfied. When you are different than I am, it helps me to see a clearer picture of who Jesus is, and of who our body is. Our goal is not to all become the same person or gift set, but rather to work together, as individuals, to complete a single picture. Jesus.
Community is not just something we do. It is something that we are. It is time we abandoned an approach that says only those who wish to contribute to the life of the body need to. It's time we stopped assuming that spiritual significance is something we learn through education. Because the truth is, the body's identity is shaped by all of us. And refusing to contribute does not change that. Instead, it just ensures that instead of being a life-giving contributor, we are a cancer.